Back in the 1800s, when the bushranging craze swept Australia, the sobriquet “gentleman bushranger” was so commonly applied that armed robbery started to seem like a positively suave hobby. The stereotypical view of a bushranger was of a bandit who, though ruthless when necessary and ferocious in battles with authority, treated the common folk with kindness and respect.
Enter, stage left, Mr Daniel Morgan. For here was a bushranger who was as far from being a gentleman as Mick Jagger is from being a suitable choice to play Ned Kelly. In a world where everyone wanted to be visited by a dashing, kindly bushranger, the man they called Mad Dog Morgan reminded them that there were times when a violent criminal could be a bit of a bastard. In the movie Mad Dog Morgan, he was played by Dennis Hopper: it tells you quite a lot about Morgan’s nature to know that this was basically perfect casting.
Dan Morgan was born John Fuller, but when, in 1863, the 33-year-old burst into full bushranging bloom, he had found the sobriquet under which he’d make his name. It was that year that, in company with a sidekick by the name of “German Bill”, Dan was riding through the bush when a squadron of troopers surprised the pair. The cops and the robbers exchanged gunfire, but Dan realised the odds were against him, and that this situation called for the utmost ingenuity. Accordingly, therefore, he turned and shot German Bill, and while the police attended to the unfortunate bleeder, Dan romped off into the woods.
Yeah. That was the kind of guy Mad Dog Morgan was.
But don’t get the idea he was just ruthless and vicious. Morgan was also a genuine lunatic, as demonstrated by the Round Hill Incident. It was June 12, 1864, when the Mad Dog moseyed up to the Round Hill Station in the Riverina, rounded up all the station hands and their wives and kept them captive in the carpenter’s shop while he drank the station dry of rum. In a festive mood, Dan decided to play a fun game called “Shoot the station manager”. This was a man named Watson, who was fortunate enough to have a wife of incredible bravery. Mrs Watson stood in front of her husband and pleaded for his life, begging the drunken bushranger to spare him for their children’s sake (she wasn’t that fussed herself).
Morgan was, at heart, a sentimental old maniac, and he was moved by Mrs Watson’s courage. And so, rather than killing the manager, he asked him to raise his hand and, in one of Mad Dog Morgan’s greatest acts of generosity, shot him through it. Which would’ve hurt like hell, but hey, better than through the head.
Immediately Dan became overwhelmed with concern for Watson’s wellbeing. A bullet wound to the hand can be very nasty, and so Morgan, ever the caring bandit, sent a station hand to a doctor, 20 miles away. It was as the young man, John MacLean, was riding across the fields that Morgan realised, belatedly, that a man sent to fetch a doctor might also think to fetch the police. Accordingly, Morgan jumped aboard his own horse, rode after MacLean – the idea of simply riding away and escaping not occurring to him – and shot him in the back. He then brought him back to Round Hill and lovingly watched him die.
A man this erratic and dangerous was never likely to live a long life: there were too many people after him and his judgment was too prone to putting himself in harm’s way. Especially bad for his long-term future was the decision to murder Police Sergeant David Maginnity, who had riled Morgan by saying hello to him. His cards were marked from that point on, and on April 9, 1865, Mad Dog Morgan finally fell at Peechelba in Victoria. The man died, but nobody could kill his legend: Dan Morgan will live forever as proof that despite what people say about murderers, some of them are actually kind of nuts.